Jesus is ready for the long walk to Jerusalem where he will risk rejection, defeat and death. But he will rely totally on God even when there is no hope. There will be no turning back. He will cast absolutely everything into the hands of God without knowing what God will do. Jesus is about to make it obvious that following him has a price. Who will go with him to Jerusalem? Would we have said, “I’ll go?” The way will not be easy. The Samaritans didn’t receive him because they were not prepared for his exclusive call.
They were prepared to give only halfhearted allegiance while Jesus was serious about the Kingdom of God and its priority. The Samaritans were like the congregation in Laodicea, spoken of in the third chapter of the Revelation to St. John the Divine.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.
“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” Is being lukewarm, neither hot nor cold — is that like a married couple being partly faithful to each other? For some questions, there is no middle ground.
You can deal with persons who exhibit unbelief or doubt. And you can deal with the overly zealous, like the sons of thunder who wanted to call fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans. But there is virtually no way to reach those who are neither hot nor cold.
A pastor wrapped up the same idea a bit more succinctly when someone asked him what he was going to do about all the people who never came to worship. He replied, “I’ve never known a congregation that was built up by its inactive members.” Sad, but true.
Jesus has already spoken of obedient service and suffering, of God’s love and power for healing, and of the ever-demanding priority of the kingdom of God. Now he spells out, with several examples, what following him to Jerusalem will mean to individuals.
What does it take to be a disciple? What is the personal cost to someone who follows Jesus Christ? Whoever accompanies Jesus on his walk to Jerusalem is warned about what is involved. This will be a lifelong journey in which every step must be taken in the light of Christ’s sacrificial presence. The only certainty for his followers is that nothing is certain, not even a place of rest and security. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests. But the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Of course followers of Jesus should also honor their parents in death as well as in life, but the obligation is way down the list in terms of priority. It is an overstatement intended to show the all-consuming place the kingdom must have. “Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, proclaim the kingdom.” Once the commitment to the kingdom of heaven has been made, there must be no thought of turning back. Such a turning away from the demands of the kingdom disqualifies that person from participation in the age to come, an age that Jesus announced by his prediction of death and resurrection.
Such intense determination is different from the one we often see. Far too often in art, and in too many minds and hearts, Jesus is seen only as a gentle and undemanding humanitarian. He is usually portrayed as soft-spoken, gentle in touch, and kindness oozes from his every gesture. But here he is the blazing-eyed messenger sent directly from heaven to insist that when a would-be disciple says “yes” to God, then there must come a radical break, a difference. And if the severity of his announcement frightens a would-be follower to turn away, that person is not ready to follow.
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is prepared for the kingdom of God.” Jesus is harsh and judgmental, confrontational and even combative. He poses a short question: “Are you loyal to the Kingdom or are you not?” In the face of the pleasures of the world that beckon all of us, such resolution and determination are not easily accepted. The call to do the mission of the church in a world of indifference, is not for everyone. Not everyone is prepared to walk with him.\ The cause is urgent; the stakes are high. Who will step up and say “Yes” to the kingdom of God and follow through in actions that fit the words?
About a hundred years ago in England, Charles Kingsley, a preacher, said that Jesus expected a muscular Christianity of his followers. Kingsley once wrote a letter to the young men of his congregation, and then shared it with everyone else. Today, of course, his letter would be written to the young women as well. He wrote, “The human race for practical purposes may be divided into three categories.
First, the honest persons who mean to do right and do it; second, the scoundrels who mean to do wrong, and do it, and third, the fools who mean to do whichever of the two is pleasanter at the moment.” The first two categories are clear enough. But when he refers to some as fools, we need to look further.
What Kingsley meant is that a fool is a person who does not have enough judgment to make decisions beyond the satisfaction of the moment. When I was a staff member at a liberal arts college, I used to hear students sum up their view of life and honor and duty. They put it very simply: “If it feels good, do it.” I wish that view of life were limited to students and young people in general. But instead, it seems to be the motto or banner for some middle-aged people who ought to know better.
The opposite of that statement seems to be equally attractive to such individuals. That is, “If whatever is under consideration does not give you instant gratification and personal satisfaction, then don’t do it.” We can also find how Kingsley’s comments apply to us in the church. That is, we have a mission in the world. Our mission is to put the demands of discipleship into practice in daily living. Does our Christianity have some muscle at that point? Do we take our discipleship seriously enough to translate our faith into responsibility for the mission of the church?
Works of mercy and love, duties of leadership and the duty of following leadership, and all the responsibilities of membership — there is room for every gift, every skill, every person. Just as the first disciples left their nets to follow him, so each of the baptized today has a call to follow Jesus Christ in daily living.
We are aware of the great heroes of the faith, whom God called — Abraham, Jeremiah, Amos, Paul, Timothy, Luke — but somehow we think God is less serious about a similar call to us.
If we were inescapably confronted with the idea that God has called us would our first reaction be: “Me? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m just an average church member.” Like that mythical town of Lake Wobegon where all the children are way above average, we must note that the grace of God so freely given deserves a response that goes beyond so-called average commitment.
Average commitment is neither hot nor cold. It may be true that our personal resources, our talents or skills may not be as spectacular as the gifts to the giants of the faith, but there should be no difference in the urgency with which we respond to the call in our time and place.
We are always in company with Jesus and his disciples. We are always at the turning point, a point of decision when we must go forward with him to Jerusalem to witness, to serve, to suffer, to sacrifice.
We are not called to succeed, to win, or to make a bigger mark than others who have gone before or now traveling with us. We are called to show up for work.
The test of discipleship, the proof of discipleship, is to offer immediate and complete loyalty to Jesus Christ — not because the end of the story is clearly in sight, but rather because we trust the teller of the story.
For his final pilgrimage, Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem. Who will go with him?